The tremolo effect is a rock ’n’ roll staple. Varying the volume of a signal up and down at regular intervals, it has been used by many crafty songwriters to add texture and motion to their pieces, creating countless hits that feature the effect as a signature, defining element.
The MXR Tremolo welcomes the beloved effect back into its ranks, and it comes equipped with six different waveforms and a bevy of features for advanced players, from stereo operation to tap tempo and expression pedal functionality to attack-sensitive envelope tremolo. It all comes in a single MXR housing.
Check out the MXR Tremolo in action below.
The MXR Tremolo’s six waveforms represent the most popular methods used over the years to produce the tremolo effect—and then some.
The MXR Tremolo’s first setting is an exact recreation of the M159 MXR Stereo Tremolo. Originally designed to emulate the tremolo of vintage amplifiers, the rich tone and organic pulse of that pedal became a sought-after sound in its own right.
If you dig tremolo with a healthy side of distortion, then you’ll be well-served by the MXR setting. In this clip, we’ve paired it with the very versatile, highly responsive MXR Super Badass™ Distortion—listen to how those vibrant pulses respond to high-gain, rock-ready harmonic content.
An early form of amp-based tremolo, utilized by models made from the 1950s to the early 1960s, produced the effect by varying the voltage going into the amp’s tubes. The result is a lush, browned-out compression. Here, we’ve combined it with the MXR Reverb—a classic effect pairing—and the MXR Sugar Drive™ Pedal to conjure up some old school trem’d out garage rock.
The Revo setting is an original creation from the MXR design team. It takes the smooth pulses of the Opto setting and runs them in reverse to create more exaggerated peaks and valleys. Want to take a ride straight to the sonic frontier? Pair this setting with an aggressive saturator such as the MXR La Machine™ Fuzz for a trip through wild and unexplored territories.
The Opto setting recreates the smooth pulse generated by photo cells in many popular amplifiers from the 1960s on. The MXR Reverb’s Spring setting makes for a historically perfect pairing, and adding the Super Badass Distortion to the mix opens up a full range of expression no matter how big your rig is.
The SQR (square wave) setting is based on a classic outboard effect that cuts your signal completely rather than gradually lowering and raising the volume, producing a choppy, super pronounced effect. It sounds epic when used with the pedal’s stereo mode—just connect a TRS cable to the main output jack. Adding an MXR Phase 90 and an MXR Reverb set 100% wet is a recipe for cavernous ambience and magically lush soundscapes.
The Harm (harmonic) setting recreates the trippy, phase-like tremolo produced by certain rare vintage amplifiers. Those amps did more than just vary the volume of your signal—they actually split your signal through high-and low-pass filters, worked some magic on the separated signals, and then mixed the two back together for a much more ethereal sound. Let your creative impulses run wild with this setting by stacking other modulation pedals along side it, and then slam the signal chain with a dirt pedal for good measure. We used the MXR Reverb, MXR Carbon Copy® Delay, and the MXR Super Badass Distortion to create a combination of sounds that offers a wide range of rich musical tones to explore.
It takes little time to dial in a killer sound with the MXR Tremolo, but if you’re into more advanced setups, this pedal comes with a host of features to satisfy your needs. Here’s a look at what this pedal offers you fine-tuners out there.
Envelope Mode allows you to take any one of the six tremolo waveforms and have them react to your playing dynamics. Playing softly produces a slower, more subtle effect, while playing with more intensity produces a faster, more exaggerated effect. You can set set the maximum level for each parameter so that you don’t generate a faster or more exaggerated effect than you need.
Want to sweep between two different control configurations? All you need is an MXR TRS Cable and an expression pedal such as the Volume (X)™ Pedal. Adjust the Gain, Speed, and Depth knobs one way with the expression pedal in the heel-down position, and then set them another way for the toe-down position. Blend between the two configurations or switch between the two—the choice is yours.
Gain pedals such as overdrive, distortion, and fuzz are staples of the modern player’s pedalboard. The range of tones and textures that they produce can be heard in just about every form of music, and they each have their own way of saturating your tone with rich harmonic content at varying degrees off combustibility. But what happens when you stack—or combine—them together? With the right pedals and settings, you can create a whole ’nother spectrum of shades and overtones that’s greater than the sum of its parts. This article will explore some of the ways that you can do just that, complete with examples to feast your ears on.
First, Some Tips
Gain is an unruly beast that’s always looking to break free. With multiple sources in your signal chain, you’ll need to be more attentive to various other elements wrangle the best sounds possible from your setup. A clean amp will make your job easier, for example, so that you can control all of the gain at the pedal level. And some pedals are just sound better together than others—if you find yourself spending hours trying to make two specific pedals play nice with each other, it might be time to swap one of them out and try a different combination. When you do find pedals that sound great together, remember that the last pedal in the gain stack is going to have the biggest impact on your tone and volume level.
Combining Overdrive with Distortion
Overdrive and distortion is the go-to combo for guitar players who like to stack gain stages—but not all players who combine these two effects put them in the same order. Let’s talk about the difference between what happens when you run OD into distortion versus distortion into OD—and why you might choose to go one way or the other.
Overdrive into Distortion
Most players run their overdrive pedal into their distortion pedal. Simply put, this gives your distortion pedal an extra gain stage, allowing you to slam the distortion circuit with more gain for a harmonically richer sound. It will also be much more dynamic and responsive to your attack with increased sustain.
Switching the pedals around, the distortion pedal sends its heavier clipping and increased saturation into the overdrive pedal, which can then shape the distorted tone. If you want high gain tones with a thicker body and smoother edges, this is the way to go. Keep in mind that, because of the compression added by the overdrive pedal, the distorted sound will be less responsive to your playing dynamics.
Here’s what it sounds like when we run the MXR Super Badass Distortion into the MXR FOD Drive.
Combining Overdrive with Fuzz
Fuzz is a different beast from overdrive and distortion, both in sound and circuit design, so choosing the right pedal combo takes a bit more discernment. With the common low-to-high-gain arrangement of overdrive into distortion, you might think that the obvious choice is to do the same with overdrive into fuzz. But it ain’t necessarily so. Here’s why.
Overdrive into Fuzz
Running an overdrive pedal into a fuzz pedal is an unwieldy arrangement, but it can sound crushingly awesome with the right pedals and settings. The overdrive pedal should provide a nicely warmed up and boosted signal for the fuzz pedal to work its manic magic on, producing a super aggressive, super saturated sound that’s perfect for everything from heavy riffing to experimental noise.
Putting a fuzz pedal in front of an overdrive pedal makes it much easier to dial in a usable sound, so it’s almost certainly the much more common arrangement. This allows the fuzz to spit hellfire with the overdrive pedal smoothing out the aggressive edges while also adding warmth and sustain. The result is a heavy, high-gain tone that’s clear enough to make individual notes pop—perfect for supercharged leads.
Check it out in this clip as we flip the order, with the MXR Super Badass Variac Fuzz running into the MXR FOD Drive.
All Together Now
Combining overdrive, distortion, and fuzz all at the same time is an exercisein experimentation. There is no right or wrong. Only fun and chaos. Here’s what our pedals sound like all at once, from overdrive to distortion to fuzz and then fuzz to distortion to overdrive. Enjoy.
Overdrive into Distortion into Fuzz
All three pedals, from low gain to high gain: MXR FOD Drive into MXR Super Badass Distortion into MXR Super Badass Variac Fuzz.
Fuzz into Distortion into Overdrive
Now from high gain to low gain: MXR Super Badass Variac Fuzz into MXR Super Badass Distortion into MXR FOD Drive.
Use Your Ears
Stacking gain pedals is rad. Try it. See what you can conjure up. It’s worth spending some time to dial in the right sounds—spend it smartly, though. Everything we’ve written here is a suggestion. Every pedal has its own voice and attitude. So does every rig. The only real rule is this: if it sounds good, then it is good. But let your ears, not your eyes, tell you what sounds good.
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Creating the sound you want isn’t just about which pedals you have—it’s also about where you place them. Pedals interact with your instrument signal and with each other in different ways depending on where they are in your signal chain, opening you up to a ton of opportunities for tweaking and customizing your tone output. While you should experiment as much as you have the patience for, we want to give you some guideposts to follow so that you have an easier time choosing what goes where in your quest for the perfect sound.
To do that, we’re going to look at three of the most popular types of effects and talk about where the conventional wisdom says that they should go in your signal chain.
CRY BABY® WAH PEDALS
The Cry Baby® Wah is the most iconic effect in the history of guitar pedals. Since its invention in the 1960s, numerous models have come out to accommodate just about every tonal preference and playing style there is. Today, the Cry Baby line includes more than 30 such models. And with all of that variation, the overwhelming consensus among guitar players is that the wah pedal should be first in your signal chain.
Wah pedals are essentially tone filters. To create their signature sound, they sweep across the spectrum of frequencies generated by your guitar. A cleaner signal means that a pedal such as the Tom Morello Cry Baby Wah has more frequencies to work with—if you want the full expressive potential of your wah pedal, you need to run it right after your guitar. Using a different effect on that signal before the wah will change the wah’s response. And you might dig that sound—that’s why it’s important to experiment for yourself. But for the purest wah sound, put your Cry Baby Wah first in your chain.
Overdrives are a pedalboard staple. In most setups, these and other gain-based effects go at the front of the signal chain, after the Cry Baby Wah and other tone-shaping effects, and for similar reasons. Overdrive pedals such as the MXR® Timmy® Overdrive boost whatever signal is fed into it and then clip the wave peaks to add all that sweet harmonic content that we know and love.
They’re designed to work on clean signals—if you run your overdrive pedal after other effects, such as modulation or delay, all kinds of extra stuff will come through for a potentially very muddy sound. Depending on the specific pedals in question, though, you might like the way it sounds when you run your overdrive pedal after a chorus, flanger, or other such effect. Try it our way first so that you know what your overdrive pedal is supposed to sound like.
Delay pedals such as the MXR® Carbon Copy® Analog Delay work most effectively—as delay pedals—when placed at the end of your signal chain. Ideally, you want the repeats to clearly replicate the entirety of the rest of your signal. If you put an overdrive pedal or a modulation pedal after, the quality of your repeats will degrade and become less pronounced. Some delay pedals do allow you to tweak the tone and behavior of your repeats—the Carbon Copy Analog Delay has modulation controls, for example—but because they’re designed for it, it’s much easier to dial in a great sound.
On the other hand, if you want some tripped out ambience, running a fuzz and chorus after your delay pedal might be just what the doctor ordered.
ACCOUNTING FOR TASTE
What sounds good to you is a matter of preference, and you won’t know which pedals sound good where until you plug in and play. But it helps to know how different ingredients go together before trying to invent your own recipe from scratch, right? Our hope is that this guide allows you to develop your own sound through informed experimentation. Add other effects to the mix. Move stuff around. Most importantly, have fun with it.
The MXR Tap Tempo Switch allows you to change your pedal settings on the fly. If you have pedals with an output for an off-board switch, then you can use this super compact little box to control time-based effects, toggle specific parameters, and more. And it comes in a super compact housing that’s built to take a beating on the road.
With the MXR Tap Tempo Switch at your feet, you won’t need to be fumbling around on your pedalboard in the middle of a song. Here’s a look at just some of the things it can do.
PLAY IT ON REPEAT.
When you’re playing live, everything needs to be tight. That includes your delay pedal’s repeats. If yours has an output for a tap switch as the Echoplex® Delay does, get the MXR Tap Tempo Switch so that you can sync up your delay pedal’s repeats with the tempo of each song, live and in the moment—whether your’re driving fast slapback or hanging back for psychedelic soundscapes.
Same goes for your favorite trem pedal. Like the Echoplex Delay, the MXR Tremolo has an output for an off-board switch—here, you can use it to set the tempo of the pedal’s pulsing effect. Tap into everything from fluttering licks to choppy, staccato riffage.
The MXR Poly Blue Octave allows you to use an off-board switch to toggle its gnarly vintage fuzz mode and select between analog-style monophonic and modern polyphonic phase shifting. Once again, the MXR Tap Tempo Switch is your hero, allowing you to change both settings through a single output and a single switch.
ON TAP: A BETTER PLAYING EXPERIENCE.
The MXR Tap Tempo Switch is compact and easy to use, and if you use time-based effects or other pedals with features that can be operated through an off-board switch, it’s a must-have for your pedalboard. Don’t fuss over the knobs and switches at your feet just as you’re about to lean into a righteous solo. Get the MXR Tap Tempo Switch, and play in the moment.